An interview with Haggard & Halloo publisher Travis Catsull
Haggard & Halloo is an Austin-based poetry magazine and publishing house, whom you might be familiar with thanks to Jason Mashakâ€˜s sold-out volume, Salty As A Lip (which they published in 2010). Founder and editor Travis Catsull agreed to answer some of our questions via email, so long as we wouldnâ€™t talk about our souls hurting, Shakespeare, or spring any tired, conservative poetry on him.
BLACK HEART: Haggard & Halloo is geographically located in Austin, Texas, even though itâ€™s published online. Does this affect the type of work you publish or prefer?
TRAVIS CATSULL: When we had to rely on our personal group of friends for content, 90% of the writing was exclusively Texan. Weâ€™ve grown a great deal since those days and our audience has become a national one. We also publish a healthy amount of writing from international contributors. Weâ€™re pleased to have the diversity as our only preference for writing are pieces that are fresh, creative and free of clichÃ©s.
BH: Whatâ€™s the websiteâ€™s rallying cry or raison dâ€™Ãªtre?
TC: We publish creative and contemporary writing. This means weâ€™re partial to new ideas, emerging voices, a place to witness the evolution of the written word and discuss it in a forum of like-minded writers. There is no other website online that provides the amount of new poetry from new and weathered writers that Haggard and Halloo produces. We strive for the exact opposite of most publications that focus on safe, conservative poetry.
BH: Who are some of your favorite writers, and how do they influence your work at the magazine?
TC: Our favorite writers are the ones that we call â€œRegular Contributors,â€ and they shape the way Haggard and Halloo feels the most. These writers are the engine of the vehicle weâ€™ve created. The guest writers who swing by and submit a poem here or there are the spark plugs, but itâ€™s the writers whoâ€™ve been with us for years that weâ€™re most fond of. As the editor I have personal favorites that evolve as my understanding of language evolves, and these writers include those who push the limits of language and imagery.
BH: What type of writing are you most interested in publishing?
TC: Experimental, surreal and inventive writing have always been our staples, but weâ€™re also interested in sincere, clever and humorous work. It might be easier to tell you what weâ€™re NOT interested in: sonnets, rhyming poetry or anything that remotely reminds us of Shakespeare.
BH: Is there anything that drives you crazy when reading submissions, or that you absolutely will NOT publish, and if so, what?
TC: I donâ€™t like it when people donâ€™t take the time to spell-check their work or, better yet, get familiar with our publication. It shows you donâ€™t care that much. We spend a lot of time creating a place for you and a lot of time reading the numerous submissions we receive on a daily basis. In 2010 we received roughly 5,000 submissions and can only post around 400. Want to make yours stand out? Spell the title of your poem correctly. We do not accept rhyming poetry or poetry containing clichÃ©s about your soul. We also shy away from poems about the poem itself. Those types of poems are usually pretty terrible.
If your poem starts out with, â€œMy soul hurtsâ€¦â€ Iâ€™m hitting delete instantly.
BH: Are there any specific examples of pieces youâ€™ve recently published that writers (or readers in general) should examine further?
TC: I donâ€™t like to single anyone out because others wonder why they werenâ€™t chosen. Iâ€™ll just say that spending some time reading our regular contributorsâ€™ work and coming by the website on a regular basis is a great way to become familiar with our style. Also, weâ€™ll be publishing a book of â€œBest of Haggard and Halloo 2010â€³ later this year, so thatâ€™ll be a great place to start.
BH: What first got you interested in publishing your own magazine?
TC: While in college at the University of North Texas there were lots of zines going around campus and Denton, TX in general. A friend and I looked at a few and thought, â€œWe could do better than this!â€ so we started our own zine. Itâ€™s evolved a great deal since 1995.
BH: How do you handle the fine art of rejections? Do you use form letters, or make personal responses? Do you ever try to educate writers who donâ€™t quite have what youâ€™re looking for, or just move on to the next submission?
TC: I wish I had the time to tell everyone why they werenâ€™t selected, but we never use form letters. Iâ€™ve been down that road and I hated them. When time permits I write back and say, â€œWe canâ€™t use this, but thanks for writing. Feel free to send something else.â€ If they ask me why Iâ€™ll usually tell them. Most of the time I delete it and move on. There are just too many to weed through. Now if itâ€™s only the ending thatâ€™s bad, and otherwise the poem works, then Iâ€™ll ask if we can delete the last line and use the poem. You wouldnâ€™t believe how many people screw up a great poem with one to two superfluous lines at the end. Or theyâ€™ll end the poem with a question or some other basic no-no. If the title sucks and itâ€™s a good poem, Iâ€™ll ask if I can change it and publish the poem. 99% of the time the writer is okay with my recommendation.
BH: We read on your blog that Tom Waits is writing a book of poetry. What famous personâ€™s book of poetry do you most desire to publish?
TC: Iâ€™d be happy to publish a small run, limited edition James Tate, David Berman or Thurston Moore chapbook. Or a combo book of all three writers titled, â€œThe Rest of You Are Crazy.â€ The reason being that those writers fit in with our style really well.
BH: In closing, what advice would you give to writers who would like to some day have their work published at Haggard & Halloo?
TC: Donâ€™t listen to our advice, but try and write something very strange and very sincere. Combine Little House on the Prairie with the Twilight Zone, then pour gasoline on that and light it on fire. Take something very close to you and twist it around to make it the most beautiful and surreal thing youâ€™ve ever seen. Thatâ€™s when you show it to us, so itâ€™ll appear that way to everyone who reads it.
Travis Catsull lives in Austin, TX. He is the founder and editor of Haggard and Halloo Publications and the poetry editor for Arthur Magazine. Travis is author of Open Spirit, Isle of Asphalt, Death of An Image and Other Poems and The Heaven Antenna: A Book of Collages. His new book, Black Moon Elevator, will be released in 2011 by Tsunami Inc. You can find more information on his blog at traviscatsull.com.